The other day, while watching TV with Allison, as we often do, I had a moment of self-actualization. I don’t remember what show was on, but I do recall what was happening. It was a scene where one of the unimportant characters bit the dust, leaving a distraught family behind. Without even consciously realizing what was going on, I felt wetness on my cheek. I was tearing up over the death of a fictional character in a TV show. What the heck was going on?
I’ve always been on the sensitive side, and for me, TV shows are pretty much the pinnacle of emotional stimuli. Shedding a few tears when Dr. Who loses a companion isn’t uncommon for me, but what happened the other day was something different. Tearing up while watching a scene from a TV show that I don’t really follow was not something that happens to me very often. Allie couldn’t resist giving me a bit of a ribbing and we both laughed, but underneath the humor I was a little worried about the cause of this emotional sensitivity. I began to take stock of my recent behavior and I discovered something fairly shocking – I have been more emotional in the last month or two than I have been in many years. Should I be worried?
It’s an unfamiliar feeling for me, to have my emotions bubbling inside, so close to the surface. There are days when I wake up and my mental state is almost normal, but then there are days where the opposite is true. During those times, I feel like someone put a second coat of paint on me, and even the slightest scratch or chip will reveal the raging neon tie-dye design hidden beneath – a paint job I’ve desperately been trying to keep under wraps. I worry that if anyone actually got a glance at the real color scheme that makes up my emotional being, they would recoil in horror, as anyone would when viewing a Day-Glo tie-dye pattern. This hidden schema is constantly writhing and swirling just beneath the veneer that shows the world a regular guy. I can constantly feel it churning and gurgling like a storm about to let loose, and I know any chink in my armor will immediately produce a streaming leak that quickly becomes a torrent of neon pain, sadness, anger, joy, and guilt.
The worst part is that I feel like maybe those ridiculous tie-dye colors are what I’m really like now, at my most basic level. The façade that the world sees may be just that – a handsome yet modest storefront used to keep the customers coming back. Like the slums in Haiti that are painted bright colors to make the tourists forget the despair and hopelessness that runs rampant inside, what if my emotional core truly looks like I murdered a family of Hi-Liters?
It’s difficult to make myself believe I’m emotionally stable and steady at all times, because anyone with chronic illness knows that’s a blatant lie. In fact, being sick all the time is almost exactly like having a raging storm of neon colors inside of you that can break out at any time. The rollercoaster of emotions when dealing with joint replacements or heart attacks is never the same twice, and never, ever, produces a calm, organized, sequence of feelings that can be overcome with a few deep breaths. What if, after years of constant emotional beat-downs and mental tempests, the chaos became permanent? What if I’ve been holding this tidal wave of emotional chaos back for years and now the dam has sprung a leak, and this is just a prelude to my eventual emotional washout?
It wouldn’t be so shocking, actually. Believe it or not, having a chronic illness can result in serious mental strain, and some researchers even believe that years of chronic illness can produce post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After all, many of us are engaged in a life and death struggle each and every day of our lives, and there is no break, no “r and r,” and no going A.W.O.L. It’s as if we are fighting the most important war of our entire lives, and the battlefield goes on forever with no way to escape the onslaught. We may get some respite here and there, but it will always return, and that’s a heavy mental burden to bear. It’s no wonder that those who suffer from chronic disease end up with PTSD symptoms.
So here I am now, with emotions bubbling so close to the surface that I fear those around me will get splashed. I’ve always been someone who took pride in the fact that I’m able to handle anything that life throws at me. I laugh heartily as I spit in fate’s eye and scoff at the knife she stuck in my back when I was just nine years old. I make it my business not to react when fate continues to twist that knife every time I think that things can’t get any worse. I have always used my strength to help define my self-worth and fuel my ego, and day that I falter is the day that I die. Unfortunately, I never even considered that losing control might not be a conscious choice. It’s like I am going through maleopause, and things keep happening without my permission. How dare my own psyche betray me like this? Especially now, when my life is just starting to come together after so many years of uncertainty, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it happen.
I’m truly at a loss to explain what is happening, but I guess is that after so many years of keeping a tight leash on my mental dogs, one or two are slipping their leads. It’s fine, though, because I know I’ll eventually get things back under control. Why? Because I always do, and there is no other choice. I’m not going to walk around like a blubbering, blabbering, floundering, whiner – that’s one thing I promised myself long ago I’d never become, and if I have to lobotomize myself to do it, then so be it.